Sunday, June 29, 2008

Russia vs Spain

The second semi final saw a repeat of the Group D opener. Spain, very much the form team this tournament, taking on a Russia side, who after their opening game thrashing, have been a force to reckon with specially with playmaker Andrei Arshavin back in the side.

Luis Arrogones`s team was surely favourties to win this one on paper, but the form guide showed that this was anybody`s game.

It was the one time european champion that started the game better, and in the first 5 minutes Sergio Ramos could have headed his side ahead. The Real Madrid defender likes to run forward and almost scored when he was on the receiving end of a Xavi cross but just could not dive in time to meet the cross.

David Villa then playing a telling ball into the area which was received by Fernando Torres.  The Liverpool striker, maked by 2 defenders, spun around before shooting but it was stopped on the near post by Akinfeev.

Russia first real chance came in the 16th minute when they won a free kick almost 35 yards from goal. Roman Pavlyuchenko took it and went for goal, but the ball was just over the bar.

Andres Inesta had a good chance when the ball was played in to the Barcelona midfielder with his back to goal, and a good touch first touch that sets him up for the turn and the shot but  Iniesta slightly misjudges the effort and takes a swipe at thin air.

Arshavin, who has had a explosive tournament but a quite game so far, played a great bal into Pavlyuchenko which left Poyul dumbfounded. The Spartak Moscow stirker took a good shot but it curled just above the far post. The refree gave a goal kick but he russians were appealing for a conner and replays showed that Casillias got a fingertip to it which stretching to stop the ball from going into goal. 

A major problem for Arrogones, who will take over at Fenerbarce after the tournament, when top scorer David villa  had to be taken off. Arsenal midfielder Cesc Fabregas came on in his place.

A goal less first half with lots of chances. The rain slowing down both sides. 

The second half started with Spain going in front just 5 minutes after kick off. Some great work from Great work from Iniesta as he cuts inside in the box and curls in a ball for Xavi to get a touch on the half volley to send his side into the lead. 

Spain had been playing some really good football and almost got their reward when David Silva`s run and cross from the left flank found Fernando Torres but the former Atletico Madrid man`s shot went wide of the post.

Cesc Fabregas played another wonderful ball for his premier league rival but Spain`s lone striker took to long to make up his mind on weather to head or kick and lost the ball in the process.

But it was only a matter of time before their lead was doubled. A long ball from Sergio Ramos fell onto Fabregas just outside the area and a cheeky flick found Daniel Guiza. The Real Mallorca man slotted home a clean finish, just like he did 27 times for his club in the Spanish La Liga. 

It looked like Spain would reach their first final in 24 years by then and Guus Hiddenk`s young team had their heads down. 

And 10 minutes later it was the icing on the cake for the Spanish. Fabregas, who had a brilliant match after coming on in the first half, playing a beautiful ball into the box for Silva. The Valencia winger had enough time to do what he wanted and he powerfully shot it into the bottom conner. Silva has been one of the outstanding players of this tournament and with his club side needing funds, major European teams will surely be in for a big money move for this young midfielder. 

And Spain finally broke the jinx and made a final of a major tournament for the first time since they lost 2-0 to France in 1984. As for Russia a brilliant tournament came to an end but they have certainly caught the eyes of many scouts across Europe and will be a strong contended for the World Cup in 2 years time. 

Thursday, June 26, 2008

Germany vs Turkey

The third last match of the UEFA Euro 2008 saw Germany take on Turkey in the first semi final. The former haven`t made this stage since they went all the way in 1996 while for the later, it is their first appearance in a semi final at a euro. 

Faith Terim`s sdie were almost cursed if you may. They had only 13 players available for selection. The rest were out through suspension or injury. 

For Jorgen Low, who was back on the touchline after serving his ban, had a full squad, though Frings was a doubt because of a cracked rib.

Turkey started the game brighter and could have gone in front in the 13th minute. Ayhan Akman played the ball back for Kazim Kazim and the London born turk`s powerful shot hit the underside of the crossbar after beating the keeper. German hearts would have surely skipped a beat there.

The Fenerbarce striker was unlucky again as he hit the woodwork another time. A cross from the right flank was hit by Kazim Kazim towords the far side of the goal and it rebounded off the bar. But this time his team were lucky as the ball fell to Ugur and he scored placing the ball between the feet of Jens Leahmann. The first goal in regulation time for over a 185 minutes.

Turkey have not held a lead for longer than 9 minutes in this tournament and this one lasted only 4. A run down the left flank from Lukas Podolski was followed by a cross from. Bastian Schweinsteiger, who made another late run into the area, finished it easily from the edge of the second six yard area. 1-1. 

Podolski had a chance of his own when he ran down the left on a counter attack for almost half the pitch, but his shot went just over the bar. 

Altintop's in swinging free kick from a long way out was meant to be death with ease from Germany`s former Arsenal keeper but he fumbled and only managed a finger tip save to send it over the crossbar. 

Altintop looked to latch onto a pass into the German area but right back Friedrich intervenes just in time. And then Sabri Sarioglu cracks a right-footer just over the crossbar from the edge of the box. 

One goal a piece at half time. Turkey were certainly the better side and it was all to play for in the second half and possibly extra time, for the fourth game in a row. 

The second half started with Germany having a penalty shout within the first 5 minutes. Lahm, who scored the first goal of the world cup 2 years ago, got into the box under pressure from 2 defenders and went down from what looked like a challenge from Sabri. The refree waved play on but replays showed that it was a foul,  but just outside the area. Poor decision from the man in the center.

Thomas Hitzlsperger could have sent his side into the lead but his right footed shot went just over the bar.

With 11 minutes of normal time remaining, a long diagonal cross from Lahm was headed in by Miroslav Klose as the keeper Rustu tried to come out and get it. The Bayren striker`s first goal in a european championship and Germany go 2-1 up. 

Turkey have being the kings of late comebacks and have snatched victory from the jaws of defeat in their last 3 matches. But this time nobody gave them a chance.

And how wrong they were. A low cross from sabri from the edge of the area was played to Semih who put the ball into the net from the little space between the keeper and post. Lehmaann stood waiting for the ball to come to him but Semih had other plans. Poor goal keeping and the score tied up all over again. 2-2.

Faith Terim`s men can surely take the lead, but they do not know how to hold onto it. And that was prouved one more time.

Phillip Lahm ran down the left channel and passed the ball before making a run into the area. He got a brilliant pass in and put the return ball into the top conner on the near post beyond the reach of the advancing Rustu. A wonderful goal in the last minute of regulation time. 

Germany would have to be alert for the remaining 4 minutes of stopage time and they did. They finally won a exciting and epic semi final 3-2 in a game that no one would dare to predict.  Germany into the final, and they await the winners of Russia

and Spain. As for Turkey, they can go home with their heads held high after an outstanding tournament. 

Monday, June 23, 2008

Spain vs Italy

Onto the last quarter final of the UEFA Euro 2008 and this one has Group D winners, Spain, who won all 3 of their matches. Their opponents are world champions Italy. They left qualification late until a 2-0 win over France in their final game. 

Roberto Donadoni was missing influencial midfielders Grande Gutusso and Andres Pirlo as they both recieved their second booking of the tournament vs the team they defeated in the World Cup final. Luis Aragonés on the other hand goes back to his original line up after playing the reserves in their dead rubber game vs Greece, which they won thanks to goals from Ruben de la Red and Daniel Guiza. 

AT the 10 minute mark, Spain had a shocking 72% to ITaly`s 28% possession. BUt despite having so much more of the ball, they had not done much with it.

And it was the team who have had less of the ball who got the opening effort of the game. Perrotta suddenly got the ball and lost his marker, Carlos Poyul, headed it goal words but Casillias managed to save it. Slight scare though. 

Spain had their first shot on target in the 25th minute when tournament top scorer David Villa struck a low free kick very well from 25 meters out. Despite the shot being clean and with lots of power, Gigi Buffon did very well to get down and catch it. Good free kick. 

Villa club mate and namesake at Valencia, David Silva, had a similar chance. His low effort from the left, after getting past 2 defenders, had the same result has the Juventus man pulled off a decent save.

Antonio Cassano had a wonderful cross to beat the entire defense and find Luca Toni, who has had a poor tournament and is still looking for his first goal, headed it but it was put out for a conner by Marchena.

David Silva, who was having a great game, drifted in from the left before releasing his shot towords the far post. A great shot while under pressure from the defenders went just wide of the upright. 

The winger then had a penalty shout when he was caught on his ankle by Fabio Grosso. The refree who was close to the incident waved it off for a dive but replays show that there was contact and that was certainly a foul, though just outside the area. 

A first half that Spain completely dominated. Italy had their chances as well but it was Aragonés`s men who were the better side. A third goal less opening 45 in the quarters. The world champions certainly missing Gatusso and Pirlo. 

Mario Camoranesi was the first man to come on replacing former Real Madrid striker Antonio Cassano. Cesc Fabregas and Santi Cazorla were brought on for Barcelona pair Xavi and Inesta. Coach Luis Aragones being frustrated and trying to change things to help his cause.

AT around the hour mark in the match, Luca Toni got a great ball and he tried to shoot it above the keeper but Casillias got a hand to it. The ball fell to second half sub Camoranesi whos shot was saved superbly by the spanish captain.

The top scorer of the Bundasliga had another opportunity to score when he got a good ball from Zambrotta but he headed it wide of the goal, just like he has throughout the tournament.

On the counter attack, David VIlla had the ball in the area with 3 defenders around his. He went down and was booked by the official for a dive, despite him protesting that he was brought down. Replays showed that the refree got the decision spot on and it was simulation more than contact. 

Marcos Senna, who is still looking for his first goal for Spain, tested Buffon from way out. His shot was saved at the first instance for the stand in Italy skipper, but the ball spun out of his hands before hiting the frame of goal. So close to being an embarrassing moment for the Italian keeper who survived by the skin of his teeth. 

Italy had the last chance of the 90 when a fabulus ball found Groso on the far post, but mis communication or mis understanding or whatever you want to call it between him and Toni and before the Lyon man could shoot his own team mate got in the way and the spanish defense scrambled the ball away. 

Into extra time for the third game in a row.

Just at the start of the first period of extra time David Silva got the ball on the edge of the area after a loose clearance from Giorgio Chiellini. But the winger`s powerful shot from between Chiellni and de Rossi, who were very close to him, went just wide of the post in another wonderful chance for him and his team.

Just a few miniutes later a Di Natalie header was perfectly placed by Iker Casillias got a stupendous finger tipe save to send the ball over the crossbar. The skipper to the rescue agian.

Just in the dying minutes, 119th to be precise, the same time when Croatia scored day before yesterday, second half sub Santi Cazorla could have won it for his sdie. The Villareal winger ran into the box and shot across the face of goal. He should have crossed it in for his team mate who was waiting at the far post to tap it in.

But that was that and it was now time for penalties. Italy frustrated Spain for 2 hours and now took it to a stage where its just anybody`s game. The curse of Vienna still lasts and into the second shoot out at this stadium. Argubially two of the finest keepers in the world, Buffon vs Casillias.

It was Spain and David Villa who took the first spot kick. Buffon dived to the right as the Valencia man sent the ball to the left. 1-0.

Fabio Grosso, the man who scored the winning penalty for Italy in the final of the world cup in Berlin 2 years ago, was going to take this one. Despite Casillias going on the same side as the ball, Grosso`s curling effort was a bit to strong and high for the keeper to get upto. 1-1.

Santi Cazorla could have won the match in extra time but he was now going to put that behind him and help his side attempt to still book a place in the semi final. An almost identical penalty from his side`s first spot kick and it was 2-1. 

Daniel di Rossi up next. He shot his kick on the left and the Real Madrid keeper pulled up a wonderful save. The first non converted penalty of the shoot out and it was advantage spain. The score still 2-1, with 2 penalties taken each. 

Marcos Senna has never scored for his adopted country and he was going to take the third. He sent the ball onto the roof of the net and made it 3-1.

Camoranesi up next and he took one of the coolest penalties you will ever see at this stage. His powerful shot went to the top right conner, giving the keeper no chance. 3-2.

La Liga`s top scorer Daniel Guiza up next. His penalty went low on the right hand side but so did Buffon and a wonderful save to keep the score still at 3-2.

Spain`s advantage was gone if di Natalie scored but the Udanise man had an almost identical peanlty to that of Guiza and San Iker, as the spanish call him, pulled off yet another incredible save. 

Arsenal`s Cesc Fabregas, whos had a small part of play this tournament could send his side through if he conveted. And he did just that. After a long run up from outside the area he tucked it into the bottom right conner as Buffon went the  other way.

Spain, deserved winners of this, will go onto play Russia in the semi finals, a team they beat 4-1 at the group stage. As for Italy, their plan of frustrating their rivals and taking it to penalties worked, but they did not think things through after the 120 minute mark. 

Saturday, June 21, 2008

Croatia vs Turkey

Onto the second quarter final now and comeback kings Turkey took in the surprise package of this tournament, Croatia. The turks had won their last two games by scoring late goals in the dying minutes of the matches and were up against a side that has a 100% record so far beating Germany, Poland and Austria on the way.

Faith Terim had a lot of pre match crises as he had only 15 players to choose from and another 8 on a yellow card for this one. Former Barcelona goalkeeper Rustu was back in the side for this one. Silvan Bilic on the other hand got his main players back after resting almost all of them in the last group game.

Turkey had the first shot of the match when a lot of good passing finally found Hamit Altintop whos shot from distance was wide of the posts.

Turkey had a free kick from a good range when Nihat was fouled Nico Kovac. Hamit took the set piece and shot it hard but the man who gave away the free kick blocked it. 

The best chance of the half, and probably the match came in the 18th minute and fell to Croatia. Semic passed it to Mordic and the number 14 used his pace to get ahead of 3 defenders on the right before playing a square ball in. Olic was on the receiving end of that pass and just needed a tap to score hit the underside of the woodwork. But the team got a second bite of the cherry when it rebounded to Kranjcar who needed to head it straight for a goal but sent the ball wide. What an amazing chance as well as probably the miss of the tournament. 

Seems like this end of the ground had a "hoodoo" as a few days ago Germany`s Mario Gomez also missed at this end from 2 yards out. 

They had another chance to take the lead this time Kranjcar`s cross found Olic alone in the box but Rustu, who finally made a comeback into the Turkey team due to injury to the first choice keeper, Volkan Demirel, got the ball before the Hambueg striker could get upto it.

In the 34th minute, Hamit took advantage of a lapse in the defense and ran past them with Nihat waiting for a cross. But the Bayren Munich defender slipped and the defense managed to clear. 

Few minutes from the break Mehmet Topal took a shot from very very far out. He teed up himself for a shot from almost 33-35 yards out and hammered one straight in. The shot beat the keeper but did not stay on target and curved just outside the frame of goal. It did not miss by much and would have been one of the best, if not the best, goal of the tournament if it went in.

Luca Mordic was having a bright game and he slipped one in for Srna but before the Shakhtar Donetsk man could control it Tuncay Sanil got it clear.

Goal less at the break and plenty to play for in the second half. Criatia certainly looked like the better side but Turkey, who came in with the repatriation of being the "spoilers" also had their chances.  

The most bizarre moment of the euro happened at the start of the second half. A very long clarence was mis headed by Gökhan Zan and instead of clearing he hit it back to Olic, who was one on one with the keeper should have headed it past him. But he did not get the power he would like on the header and it was saved by Rustu. But the 28 year old got it once more and he headed it across the face of goal from the left before it was cleared by Hakan Balta. Very strange chance but another great miss. 

Bilic`s men came forward very well and Mordic played a delightful ball to his to be premier league rival, Niko Kranjcar, but the FA Cup winner shot straight at the keeper. 

More great play from Croatia, Pranjic inside to Rakitic with a one-two with Olic and Rakitic is clean through and shoots well over. Its almost like a turkish ghost is keeping them from scoring. Nobody can believe their bad luck.

And just a minute later Rakitic`s cross found the head of Olic but the former CSKA Moscow man heads it just wide.

Bilic`s side had a free kick from a good position when second half sub Mladen Petrić was fouled. So far in the 4 matches in Vienna, only one goal has been scored in open play. The 2 of the other 3 have been penalties and the third a wonderful free kick by Michael Ballack to send Germany to the quarter finals.

And what a free kick that was. Srna fired that with all his power and it was going for the top conner but the man of the moment, Rustu, pulled the best save of the match. What a chance and one can only wonder what more do they need to take the lead. 

We were set for extra time for the first time in the UEFA Euro 2008. Both coaches inspired their players and the two teams were set to kick off the first period of extra time.

Arda does well to create space and gives it to Semith on the conner of the box with the shot but is spins over. 

The best chance of the extra time came in the 102nd minute Tuncay Sanil had a drive from 25 yards out and the keeper was beaten on the near post but the shot went just wide of the far post. The Croatian fans certainly skipped a heart beat.

Into the second 15 and everybody was mentally preparing themselves for penalties after a match, that some would argue, was a boring 2 hours of football. 

But that all chanced in the 119th minute. Croatia took advantage of the space on the right but Mordic got tackled and lost the ball. Rustu should have caught the ball but it looked like it was going out for a goal kick so he left it. But the man who signs for Tottenham got up quickly and reached the ball before crossing it in and Ivan Klasnić headed it into an empty net. 1-0 and finally a goal.

It looked all over as the only time left was the one minute of stopage time. But Turkey are the kings of coming back late and they did it yet again. Rustu took a free kick from an offside from far up and played the ball into the box. It fell to Semih Şentürk who unlike the Croatian defense, kept his concentration and finished it for a very very dramatic end of the match. 

Both goals were scored by players who came on in the extra time period.

Penalties it was and everybody was rubbing their eyes to make sure they weren`t dreaming. They could have thought they fell asleep due to the boring match and dreamt all of this. 

Silvan Bilic was furious as he wanted to make a substitution when Rustu took that free kick but was not allowed to. 

It was going to be Croatia who took the first penalty and Luca Mordic stepped up. But he shot wide of the right post though the keeper also dived on the same side.

Arda Turan took Turkey`s first and scored in the center before the keeper could get down. 1-0 Turkey.

Srna took the second one for his side and shot straight in the middle after Rustu went onto the left. 

Semih, who scored that late dramatic equiliser sent the keeper on the right while he shot on the left. 2-1 Turkey.

Next up was Ivan Rakitić. He went onto the left side but went well wide of the post, further wide than what Mordic`s penalty was.

Hamit Altıntop was given the responsibility of the third and he slotted it in cooly on the bottom right conner. 3 in 3 for his side.

20 year old Mladen Petric had to score to give his side any hopes of staying in the competition. He shot on the right and it was wonderfully saved by Rustu. 3-1 on penalties and Turkey win.

They earned the right to play Germany in their first ever Euro semi final thanks to some awful penalties from Crotaita, who really dominated the game. Heart break for them but who said football is a fair game!

Friday, June 20, 2008

Portugal vs Germany

The knockout round had started and first up was the quarter final clash between Portugal and Germany. The former being the inform team of the tournament despite loosing their last group game to co-hosts Switzerland but coach Luiz Felipe Scolari, who is set to take over at Chelsea after the Euros, had rested all his key players in that game. The later on the other hand left it last till a 1-0 victory over the other co hosts, Austria, in their last group game after an embarrassing 2-0 loss by the hands of Croatia. 

Manager Jorgen Low was suspended for this one after he received an additional one match ban after being sent to the stands in the last match. Bastian Schweinsteiger was back after serving his suspension following the red card he received during the 2-0 defeat to Croatia. 

Jose Bosingwa`s cross in the opening minutes found the head of skipper Nuno Gomes but the 31 year old headed it across the face of goal instead of inside it. 

Thomas Hitzlsperger had a good shot from very wide on the right. A short throw in found the VfB Stuttgart man and he shot instantly only for it to hit the side netting. Good shot none the less, lots of power on it. 

After running a good 30-40 meters Deco played a brilliant through ball to Simao on the right who beat the offside trap. But the Atletico Madrid man went for goal and allowed the german keeper to pull off an easy save. There were 2 other Portugese players waiting in the area for him to square the ball to them.

Bosingwa, who will follow Scolari to Chelsea this summer, was having a wonderful game going forward. He picked out another beautiful cross, this time for Joao Moutinho. The Sporting Lisbon midfilder was in two minds weather to head it or kick it 6 years away from goal. Just when it looked like he was going to use his head, he changed his mind and the ball hit his knee before going above the bar. A brilliant chance missed. 

And their opponents were going to make them pay for the missed chance just two minutes later. Podolski made a wonderful run down the left getting the better of Bosingwa, before playing a neat grounded cross in this time beating Pepe. Schweinsteiger, who had made an amazing run from the half line, slid to put this one at the back of the net and score a beautiful goal for Germany. 

And just 4 minutes later the scoreline read Germany 2-0 Portugal. Schweinsteiger`s free kick into the box was headed in by Klose who ran past all the others to make contact. Trouble for Scolari, Joy for the suspended Low.

Cristiano Ronaldo plays a little one two with Simao before trying to find Gomes but the final ball is off the mark and cleared away for a conner by Mertesacker. Everything seemes to be going right for the Germans, from defense to attack. 

But Portugal finally pulled a goal back just before the break. Ronaldo ran down the left flank before shooting straight at Lehmann. The former Arsenal man could not hold onto it and Nuno Gomes went in the opposite direction to collect the ball and slot it home. 

That goal set the match for a great second half. Definatly the most entertaining first 45 so far in the tournament, and it is the only time when we have seen 3 goals in it. With the score at 2-1, it was anybody`s game in the second period of the match. 

Hitzlsperger showed some lovely control to bring down Klose's pass from the left on the edge of the Portugal box, before curling a left footed effort well over the bar. This really was a very high tempo match.

In the 55th minute Portugal had an amazing chance. A conner from Simao Sabrosa was going for a goal  kick near the far post but headed back by Deco straight to Pepe but the Real Madrid center half sent the ball over the bar.

And just when you think Portugal are getting closer and closer to scoring, Germany make them pay for it. Schweinsteiger`s free kick into the box from the far left hand side, was headed in by Michael Ballack for his second of the tournament. The captain leapt above club mate Paulo Ferriera and almost certainly headed Germany into the semis. Seems like de ja vu?? Well that is beacuase this was almost a carbon copy of the second goal of the match which was scored by Klose.

Deco played a square ball to Petit who shot from almost 28-30 yards and got the ball on target. But jens Lehmann did well to get down at catch the shot. Luiz Felipe Scolari and his men were certainly in no mood to give up just as yet.

Podolski could have made it 4-1 when a conner was cleared and it fell to his feet and his shot form long distance did not miss by much. 

With 3 minutes to go the chasers were throwing everything forward and the leaders everything back. And their efforts were rewarded when a stunning inch perfect cross from Nani on the left, who came on for Nuno Gomes, was headed in from close range by Helder Postiga, who was also a second half substitute replacing Petit. 

3-2 with 5 minutes to go and the game for set for an end that everybody (excpet for maybe Portugal fans) really hoped for. The clocked had never ticked slower for the Germans and had never moved faster for the Portugese. 

But despite a wonderful end, there were no more goals. Germany, who have not made it past the group stage since they won it in 1996 have made the semis, and Portugal, who were one of the brightest teams in the Euro were out. Luiz Felipe Scolari`s 5 and a half year reign was over and now the likes of Cristiano Ronaldo, Deco and Ricardo Queresma could look forward to solving the mystery of their club futures. 

Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Russia vs Sweden

The final group game of the UEFA Euro 2008 was upon us and it was winner takes all as Russia faced Sweden in Tivoli, Austria. Spain already qualified when they beat the Swedes thanks to a last minute goal from David Villa, the same man who got a hat ric against the Russians in a 4-1 win. The 2 teams today both beat defending champions Greece and are locked on 3 point. So the winner finishes second in the group and plays the Netherlands in the quarter finals.

Lars Lagerback named an unchanged line up from their heart breaking 2-1 defeat to Spain. Guud Hiddenk on the ohter hand had Zenit St Petersburg playmaker Andrei Arshavin, who scored in the UEFA Cup final, back from suspension. Dmitri Torbinsky was sacrificed. 

And the Arshavin got the first scoring opportunity of the match when he headed a Anyukov cross over the bar. 

Pavlyuchenko got in a brilliant low cross from the right but striker Diniyar Bilyaletdinov could not get to it in time. 

Arshavin did not let his team down as he had a brilliant goal bound cross-shot sent over the posts by the fingertips of Igor Akinfeev. A wonderful ball but an even better save. 

It was them who finally broke the dead lock in the 24th minute. A bit of great football was given its just reward as Semshov played a square ball for Anyukov and the 25 year old unselfishly played it in for Pavlyuchenko who shot into an open goal from 12 yards. Beautiful football and a beautiful goal with it. 

Bilyaletdinov then shot just wide of the target from the egde of the area. It was all Russia at that moment. 

Sweden had their first chance fall to Henrick Larsson. A wonderful cross was headed by the former Barcelona man as it went above the Russian keeper Akinfeev before hitting the crossbar. So nearly the priceless equalizing goal. Lagerback`s men just need a draw to secure a place in the next round as they have a stronger goal difference than their opponents. 

Isaksson was kept busy first from Zyrianov header which he clawed away and then beating a long range shot from the same man.

1-0 Russia at the break in a match completely dominated by them. They had 13 shots to Sweden`s 3 at the break and Guud Hiddenk is looking strong to face his own country, the Netherlands, on Saturday. 

At Russia continued from where they left off. 5 minutes into the second 45, they doubled their lead. Zhirkov charged down the left flank on a counter attack and passed it to Arshavin who shot cleanly into the bottom conner from 10 yards out. Fantastic goal and just as well constructed as the first. 

Yuri Zhirkov could have made it 3-0 at the 70th minute but his curling free kick went just above the bar. 

Zlatan Ibrahimovic, who has 2 goals in 2 matches, messed up a great cross from Larsson. The Inter Milan striker headed down instead of heading straight and the keeper managed to save it.

But it was Hiddenk`s men who were doing the business and they hit the post again. Zyrianov came in from the left hand side but his right footed shot was rebounded off the woodwork. 

Ibrahimovic had a free kick from a good range but ruined a fabulous chance as he shot well over the goal and wasted a chance to get his side back into the game. That really summed up Sweden`s afternoon. 

Goal scorer Pavlyuchenko received almost an inch perfect cross from the right hand side but shot straight into the gloves of Sweden`s Manchester City keeper. 

The same man missed again just moments later as he did well to get a lot of space in the box but fired Saenko`s cross wide of the goal. Chance after chance went begging for Russia, and even though at 2-0 they were safe, the game could really have been a high scoring one.

And in the end fortune favors the brave and Russia, who really took the game to Sweden, will go through into the knock out rounds for the first time ever since the Solvet Union split up. Guud Hiddenk`s men are playing beautiful football and with the return of Andrei Arshavin, who had a man of the match performance today, write them off at your own risk. We`ll see them in action next on Saturday as they take on the mighty dutch in what will probably be the most entertaining of the 4 quarter finals. 

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

France vs Italy

Group C was called the group of death being the hardest of all 4. And they could not have called it better. World cup finalists from 2006, France and Italy, were drawn together along with Romania and the Netherlands. Marco van Basten`s dutch side had impressive victories over both these sides playing today and Romania managed to pull out a surprizer draw with both of them as well.

So with both teams locked on 1 point in the last game, the best 2 teams in the world were in a do or die situation on the final match day of group c. But even if one team win, they need the Netherlands to get a draw or a win, for them to qualify. 

Both managers under severe pressure from the fans and the media, just like Joegem Low was yesterday, they made several changes. Raymond Domenech was missing Lilian Thuram through injury and Patrick Vieria was still not fit. Eric Abidal was playing in the center of defense and Karim Benzema came in for Florent Malouda. Roberto Donadoni`s big story on the other hand was leaving out Alexandro del Piero and allowing the bad boy of Italian football, Antonio Cassano in the starting line up.

So a high pressure replay of the FIFA World Cup and Euro 2000 final was on the way with the big man, Luca Toni having the first chance of the match. He did very well to get into the box but misfired misribially wide of the post. 

Problems seemed to have just started for the Euro 2000 winners when their star man, Frank Ribery was taken off on a stretcher after just 10th minutes due to what seems like a fracture in the leg. He was replaced by 20 year old former club team mate Samir Narsi.

Managers now like to be brave and put just one man on the post instead of two, and Claude Makelele demonstrated why infact both posts need to be covered. Panucci, Italy`s only goal scorer so far, headed a conner goal bound but was cleared off the line by the Chelsea midfielder. 

But the final break through was finally made in the 24th minute. Luca Toni was one on one with the keeper but Eric Abidal, who looked uncomfortably out of position so far, tripped the Bayren striker from the back. Penalty for Italy, red for Abidal, horror for France. 

Andres Pirlo, who took one of the winning penalties in Germany in 2006, stepped up for this one and made no mistake in firing into the top conner. A much deserved lead for Italy was finally theirs. 

Center Back Boumsong was brought on for substitute Samir Narsi as France`s youngest squad member lasted just 15 minutes on the pitch. 

But that did not help Domenech`s poor defense. Luca Toni had 3 clear cut chances in succession. 

The first of whcih came just a few moments after the goal. He somehow managed to get Perrotta's cross near the goal and did not miss by much. Fabulous effort. 

Not much later the 6 foot 5 inch striker was wide of the target again when the Bundasliga`s top scorer attempted to volley Pirlo`s cross. 

The last of them was at the half hour mark as he turned really well but did not force a save from Coupet. Very encouraging signs for the 4 time world champions. 

The last real chance of the half fell to Fabio Grosso whos free kick from just outside the area required a stunning fingertip save from his Lyon team mate Coupet to deny the man who scored the winning penalty against the same side at the 2006 Fifa World Cup.

A brilliant half from Italy`s point of view, but France have a lot of work to do in the second half if they are to have any chance of progressing to the quarter finals for a meeting with Spain. Romania on the other hand, are holding the Netherlands goal less at the break so if things stay this way, Donadoni`s men will be through. 

France had the first chance of the second half as a brilliant ball from Toulalan was struck over the bar by Karim Benzema from just outside the area.

Thierry Henry also had his chance to get the equalizer. He turned and shot very well, in his trademark style, but was saved well by Mr. Reliable, Gigi Buffon. 

The Barcelona striker called the Juventus keeper back into action just 2 minutes later but it had the same result.

There was a huge roar from the Italian supporters as the news was that the Netherlands had taken the lead against Romania thanks to a Huntalaar goal. If the result of the other game stays the same, even a draw would be enough for the Azzuri. 

But a draw is not what they wanted. Daniel di Rossi took a free kick from about 30 yards out and shot to his left. Goalkeeper Coupet also dived the same side, but the ball struck the leg of Thierry Henry who was in the wall and was deflected straight into the goal. Very poor luck for Domenech but his counterpart could not care less. 

15 minutes from time, Karim Benzema had a beautiful opportunity to pull one back. He curled the ball with his right foot from outside the area but Buffon made a magnificent save to deny the Lyon youngster. By far his side`s best chance of the match. 

France`s chance did look slim but Italy`s looked stronger than ever as Netherlands scored another one. This time Robin van Persie getting on the end of it to match the score from Zurich.

Luca Toni had the chance to make it 3 in stoppage time when he got the ball from Cassano and shot just over the goal from long range. Did not miss by far. 

In the end it was 2-0 for the Italians who began his career as manager of the national team with a 3-1 defeat to France in a Euro 2008 qualifier. 4 days ago they faced the prospect of an embarrassing early exit, but now have booked the right to play Spain in the quarter final in a few days time. But they will be without influential midfielders Pirlo and Gatusso, who both picked up their second yellow card of the tournament tonight. As for the French a frustrating and unfortunate day comes to and end, and so could the careers of their coach and many senior players like Lilian Thuram and Claude Makelele.